Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas



From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online’s news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.

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Former President of Argentina Dies Suddenly

Néstor Kirchner, who served as the president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007, died after suffering a heart attack on October 27. A former governor from the Patagonian State of Santa Cruz, Kirchner won high approval ratings for steering his country through troubled waters to economic growth in the wake of a 2001 financial crisis. In 2005 his government negotiated the restructuring of the country’s $81 billion in bond debts and on December 15 of that year, he announced that Argentina would pay off its remaining $9.8 billion debt to the IMF. Despite his popularity, he chose not to seek reelection, yet played an active role as an advisor to his wife and successor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. There was broad speculation that he would run for president again in 2011. The Christian Science Monitor describes Kirchner as a “Latin American statesman” and quotes ruling party congressman Juan Carlos Dante Gullo as saying, “This will leave a huge hole in Argentine politics.” Clárin.com explores Kirchner’s life as a powerbroker and carries ongoing coverage.

Read an AS/COA Online article about Kirchner’s political career.

Dilma Extends Lead

With just days to Brazil’s October 31 presidential runoff vote, polls put Dilma Rousseff’s lead at 12 points, with a 56 percent vote intention over José Serra’s 44 percent. O Folha de São Paulo offers full coverage of the election.

Access an AS/COA Online resource guide to the runoff election.

Bulgarians Back Dilma for President

Dilma Rousseff, front-runner candidate in Brazil’s upcoming presidential runoff election, has garnered widespread interest in Bulgaria, her father’s homeland. “Everybody is very curious about Brazil and the candidate. For Bulgarians, there is no question about her being a Bulgarian,” said Paulo Wolowski, Bulgaria’s ambassador in Brazil.

Lula Asked to Back Israeli Soldier’s Release

Supporters of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have collected more than half a million signatures in Latin America for a petition asking Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva to become involved in negotiations for his release. Shalit has been held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas since 2006.

Cholera Hits Haiti

The Pan American Health Organization offers updates on the cholera outbreak in Haiti that has thus far resulted in 259 deaths and over 3,340 confirmed cases. In an interview for Scientific American, David Sack, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, considers the outbreak’s timing in relation to the January earthquake: “From what I can gather, the outbreak did not start in the area of the earthquake, so it’s not clear that it is directly related to the earthquake.”

Barbados’ Prime Minister Dies in Office

The Prime Minister of Barbados David Thompson died of pancreatic cancer on October 23 at the age of 48. His illness was diagnosed in March. Thompson was elected head of the Caribbean island in 2008, and will be replaced by the current Attorney General and Deputy Prime Minister Freundel Stuart until scheduled elections in 2012.

EU Recognizes Cuban Hunger Striker with Award

Guillermo Farinas, a Cuban activist who staged a hunger strike in support of Cuban political prisoners and to protest political conditions on the island, was awarded the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament.

In addition, EU foreign ministers agreed to commence thawing diplomatic and trade relations with the communist country.

Canada-Mexico Potential Goes Unfulfilled, Says Report

The Canadian Foundation for the Americas and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations released the report “Canada-Mexico Relationship: a Backgrounder,” which looks at important aspects of economic, security, and policy coordination between the two countries. The report argues that “even when considering the remarkable pace at which the Canadian-Mexican economic relationship has grown within the 16-year span since NAFTA entered into force, much of its potential remains untapped.”

Ex-central Bank Head: Mexico’s Currency Also Overvalued

Former Mexican Central Bank Governor Guillermo Ortiz said that high levels of international investment had put upward pressure on the peso, increasing its value by over 7 percent since September, reports the Financial Times Beyond Brics blog. Arguing that Mexico should follow Brazil’s lead and impose taxes on inflows of foreign capital, Ortiz said: “We shouldn’t be the ones left out.”

Arizona-Mexico Border: Facts and Fiction

In a series of questions about the state’s southern border, the Arizona Daily Star looks to demystify issues taking center stage during the election season. The newspaper’s questions include “Is the border more dangerous than ever?” In response, it answers: “For people illegally crossing it, yes. For people living near it in Mexico, probably. For people living on the U.S. side of the border, probably not.”

What Republican Wins Could Spell for LatAm Policy

The Latin Americanist blog provides a roundup of what widespread Republican wins in the upcoming U.S. mid-term elections could mean for U.S.- Latin American relations. The potential victory may alter ties with Cuba and Venezuela, as well as affect trade, drug, and immigration policy, notes the post.

Read and AS/COA Online analysis of what U.S. midterms outcomes might mean for free trade, border security, and immigration.

LatAm Leaders Criticize California’s Prop 19

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hosted his counterparts from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico at a three-day regional summit in Cartagena. The leaders jointly expressed their opposition to California’s Proposition 19, which, if passed, would legalize possession of marijuana in small amounts in the border state.

Top U.S. Envoy to Visit Costa Rica, Nicaragua

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela visits San Jose on October 27 and Managua the following day to discuss bilateral and regional issues “such as our cooperation to promote democratic governance, citizen safety, inclusive economic opportunity, energy security, and climate change.”

Valenzuela’s visit comes during a minor dispute between the two Central American countries over Nicaragua’s dredging of the San Juan River. The river demarcates the border between the countries.

Colombia’s Ecopetrol Boasts Record Profits

Following strong efforts to expand production, Colombia’s national energy company Ecopetrol showed profits up 42.7 percent over last year’s numbers in the third quarter. The firm showed record output from its operations in Peru, Brazil, and the U.S. Gulf Coast.

SouthAm Agriculture Ministers Meet to Curtail Asian Buying Power

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi met with his counterparts from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay to discuss plans for coordinated policies on agriculture exports in efforts to wrest power from Asian buyers, reports Bloomberg. “We can start a new future where we can be associates,” Rossi said. “That way we will not need to be manipulated by buyers.”

Argentina to Produce Enriched Uranium

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced Monday that Argentina would again begin production of enriched uranium, halted by former President Carlos Menem in the 1990s. “We are going to be able to manage the entire [nuclear] cycle from the production of uranium to the recycling of waste,” said President Fernández de Kircher.

Buenos Aires Counts Afro-Argentines in Census

Argentina’s upcoming census will count citizens of African descent for the first time in over 100 years. Popular belief held that war and yellow fever wiped out the country’s black population in the 1860s, so community organizers see the measure as “a good start, especially to counter the wrong-headed ideas that there are no black people [in Argentina].”

Peru Grants Bolivia Access to the Sea

In a display of warming bilateral relations, Peru extended a 1992 deal giving Bolivia access to a section of the Peruvian coastline, allowing the landlocked country to build a Pacific port. The deal will “open the door for Bolivians to have an international port, to use the oceans for global trade,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Evo in Tehran

Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived in Tehran on October 25 for a three-day visit seeking to develop bilateral ties with Iran. Infolatam reports that the Bolivian embassy in Tehran sees the visit’s main goals to be securing a $200 million loan to Bolivia, reports infolatam.

Bolivia to Develop Lithium Plant Unaided

President Evo Morales announced on October 21 that Bolivia will not need foreign investors’ help to exploit its vast Uyuni Salar lithium reserves, scheduled for 2014 development, reports Reuters. The country does not currently mine lithium.

Ranking State Corruption

Transparency International released its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking countries’ perceived levels of corruption based on 13 independent surveys. Chile is Latin America’s least corrupt country, coming in at 21 out of 178 countries, while Venezuela fared the worst, ranking 164.

One Hundred Influential Hispanics

Hispanic Business profiles 100 visionaries from the halls of power in Washington, the corporate world, the media, and other areas.

Ecuadoran Out-naps the Competition

Spain’s National Association of Friends of the Siesta organized its inaugural siesta contest in an effort to encourage more napping. During 20-minute rounds, competitors were judged on how long they slept, snore volume, odd sleeping positions, and pajamas style, reports the Guardian. The winner, a 62-year-old Ecuadoran man, snored louder than the average competitor, and claimed, “[M]y wife made me do this, but then they couldn’t wake me up.”

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